SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge on Friday awarded Minor League ballplayers conditional class certification in an ongoing labor suit against Major League Baseball.
Lead plaintiff Aaron Senne sued MLB, its commissioner Bud Selig, and three major league clubs in February 2014, claiming the wages paid to Minor Leaguers violated state and federal labor laws.
All 30 Major League teams were later added as defendants to the lawsuit, but U.S. District Judge Joseph Spero dismissed eight teams in May for lack of personal jurisdiction, leaving 22 Major League clubs as defendants.
During an Oct. 2 hearing, Spero said the standard for achieving conditional class certification is "extremely low."
Spero pointed to three common issues that justified granting conditional class certification - the alleged failure to pay minimum wage, failure to pay overtime wages, and a uniform player contract which requires all minor league players receive payment only during the championship season but obligates them to work outside of the season.
"There are declarations showing work was performed during the offseason without compensation," said Spero.
MLB attorney Elise Bloom disagreed with Spero's decision, arguing there is nothing "facially unlawful" about the uniform player contract.
"It obligates a player to perform professional services on a calendar-year basis, regardless of the fact that the salary is paid during the championship season," Bloom said of the contract.
Bloom argued that some players were paid for extended spring training on a club-by-club basis and that no "facially unlawful policy" exists to tie the minor league players into one group.
However, Spero said Bloom's arguments at this stage of the class certification process are moot because the plaintiffs have provided sufficient evidence to show common claims of injury.
Bloom urged the judge to exclude "a handful of players" that worked for the Major League clubs that were dismissed from the suit in May due to lack of personal jurisdiction.
"They're claiming some kind of joint-employer relationship," said Bloom. "Whether there is a joint-employer relationship is a fact-intensive inquiry and would not be sufficient to pull all those players into this claim."
Spero said for him to rule on that subject at this point would be similar to him issuing a premature summary judgment, adding those questions will be tackled during the next phase of the class certification battle.
"We believe we have more than enough to meet the standard of conditional class certification on behalf of all players," said plaintiff class attorney Bobby Pouya.
The judge approved the plaintiff's motion for conditional class certification, adding that the next phase will pose more challenges to both sides and set the stage for a "big fight" between the parties.
Notice will now be mailed to all minor leaguers that played ball during the class period, giving the players an opportunity to become part of the class action.
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